Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Agrilinks Insights on Closing the Gender Gap in Agriculture

Inclusive and sustainable agricultural-led growth requires overcoming systemic barriers that have disadvantaged women, who are estimated to be 40 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries. If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase their yields by up to 30 percent, in turn reducing the number of the world’s hungry people by 12 percent or more.

In anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8 and in recognition of the critical role women play in food security, Agrilinks recently surveyed its members for insights on how we can better achieve gender integration in agriculture. We appreciate the community’s reflections  compiled below  on these issues. See the sidebar for a roundup of our favorite resources on gender integration and women’s empowerment in agriculture.

What advice would you give an implementer/policymaker in effectively integrating gender into programming/policy?

Kristie Drucza, Gender and Inclusion Project Lead, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT): In policy: make sure you consider the heterogeneity of women and complete an evaluation of your policy to ensure you understand the differential impact of your efforts on men and women. In our policy analysis, this is not common practice and consequently, inconsistencies in approaches are found and certain groups of women (usually the poorest and most excluded) miss out.

In programs: incorporate gender-norm change at the highest level of project design (e.g. at the goal/outcome level in a logframe/theory of change) and make sure your indicators capture changes for women and men as well as social relationship changes.

Matt Curtis, USAID: Two takeaways from our work in Myanmar, first, make it personal. USAID’s Value Chains for Rural Development project in Myanmar strives for inclusion and gender equity in its engagement with farmers and agribusinesses. Early on, it was a challenge to increase meaningful participation and involvement of women in project and partner-led activities. The activity relied on farmer group leaders (usually male) to distribute invitations; however there was seldom gender parity in terms of attendance. The activity decided to change its approach and invite women directly and/or by name. 

The efficacy of this approach first became apparent in the ginger value chain and helped increase the percentage of women involved in trainings – especially important because roles in ginger farming are gender-specific. In the melon value chain, the activity reported higher rates of women’s involvement in 2018 than in previous years (22 percent) by working with community-based lead farmers to ensure that women farmers were invited to trainings specifically by their names printed on invitation cards, rather than sending a general invitation to each melon farming household, which usually resulted in the male “head of household” attending the event. 

Second, don't underestimate the power of a positive example. It's important to constantly seek and tap opportunities to highlight examples (via messaging and outreach) of women leaders and innovators in agribusinesses. Winrock in Myanmar learned that messaging that spotlights the knowledge and capabilities of women leaders in agriculture has effects that go well beyond the exposure gained through specific media outputs, inspiring other leaders and increased women’s involvement.

As an example, in the coffee sector, frequent messaging by USAID, Winrock and partners around the innovative approaches to production and processing taken by Ma Su Su Aung (Amayar Women’s Coffee Producers Group) and the women winners of national coffee cupping competitions created incredible momentum and opportunities for women in the coffee value chain in Myanmar over the past four years, leading to the creation of the Myanmar chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and the recent launch of the first, women-led organic coffee export venture with a US-based firm, Chameleon Cold-Brew.

Makeda Tsegaye, NetBizImpact, Nairobi: Effective gender integration into programming involves understanding the unique challenges that women face in the society. For instance, in the entrepreneurial space, women are expected to compete with their male counterparts without any regard to their unique challenges. In addition to the typical challenges faced by all entrepreneurs, women have additional challenges associated with childcare and multiple household responsibilities that can significantly limit their ability to compete effectively in the marketplace. Therefore, without factoring in these challenges and designing appropriate support mechanisms, gender-oriented entrepreneurship programs cannot be as impactful.

John Ede: My recommendation to implementers/policymakers is to ensure greater connection and participation of women at the grassroots level for inclusion of their inputs. Implementers/policymakers should learn to ask more open-ended questions rather than always asking pre-determined questions. I remember visiting the Ancha community in Kaduna State, Nigeria, I joined some women to process cassava to garri. These women were shocked because, in their community, men produce the crops, and women process it for consumption and for the market. This singular act gave us more open doors to the community, as we got the women to participate in the program design and implementation process.

Douglas J. Merrey, Florida: Avoid trying to force policy reform where the resistance is very strong and your capacity is not. Look for win-win opportunities. Invest where the social-economic-cultural barriers to women are relatively weak to provide women better opportunities. In contexts where the barriers to women’s empowerment are greatest (for example, societies with strict views on women’s roles), focus on investments that will improve women’s lives in their own sphere. For example, trying to force men to accept women to have an equal voice in irrigation water users associations in countries where women’s public roles are restricted accomplishes little. But in such a context, helping women improve their home gardens or manage small livestock that would normally be in their control can bring significant benefits to women.

Nicolas Gates, Copenhagen: While I’m early in my career, I have spent a lot of time doing research in the field for my graduate studies at the University of Copenhagen, as well as working in the Fairtrade sector looking at women's empowerment in producer organizations in Kerala, India.

My biggest recommendation from my research would be to be mindful of local contexts and to pay attention to the “delivery vehicle” with respect to the promotion of empowerment, i.e. how the intervention is structured. For instance, I found that most of the benefits of Fairtrade to women's empowerment were highly dependent on whether women took part in Self-Help Groups (SHGs), which were savings and loans groups which exist outside of Fairtrade, but that this one producer group also used. As a result, personal and social empowerment, for example, can mean a lot in an organizational context, particularly with respect to gender equity and a culture of gender equality; however, the actual benefits to women in terms of economic and financial empowerment  the types of empowerment which beget empowerment in other areas  tend to be highly dependent on how integrated that goal is into local contexts, in this case SHGs. 

This work has taught me the importance of both intra- and inter-household cooperation in strengthening the empowerment of women and the importance of community development and capacity-building in strengthening the bonds that reinforce empowerment. I think that is an important insight, but one that needs to be adapted to different contexts and not universalized. 

Angeline Ndabaningi, LEAD project (implementing the Feed the Future Zimbabwe Crop Development Activity): I would note three things. First, you cannot exclude men in women's empowerment programs. Take both men and women as change agents. Second, women are not homogeneous. There is need for special attention and seek participation by all women's groups (widows, divorcees, single mothers, young women and married women) instead of having a blanket approach. Third, I have seen role plays helping women and men to open up to discuss sensitive issues and also contributing to positive behavior change. I was able to adapt role plays to discuss women's land rights issues in rural districts of Zimbabwe contributing to policy discussions and changes at the national level.

Azinwi Ngum Nkwah, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading, UK: Women's roles in agriculture and food security have long been undocumented or completely ignored especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Acknowledging women’s time, skills and knowledge inputs is a gateway to developing policies that meet their needs. When this happens, they will lead the way to sustainable agriculture and food security in the continent.  

Altrena Mukuria, John Snow International: Gender is not just women; it includes men, boys, girls, and others, across age groups. It's important to increase women's empowerment and decision-making along with male engagement in nutrition and health. Men want to be good fathers and have healthy families. 

Erick Ombija, Nairobi: In the global south, some cultural practices had widened the gender gap in agriculture from time immemorial. And in all this theatre, women suffer the most. However, in a few decades, in the quest for sustainable agriculture, creating safer spaces for women in agricultural development has registered a lot of positive results. Policymakers and programmers have to continue designing gender responsive policies and programmes for enhanced success. 

Ofosu Asamoah, 4-H Ghana: My advice to program implementers is to focus on integrating gender into mixed-sex groups, which produce better results compared to single-sex groups. For example, men in mixed-sex groups show less violent behavior towards women than men in single-sex groups. Also, women in mixed groups have a well-enhanced agency (self-confidence and positive relations) than women in single-sex groups. In view of this, policymakers should focus much on investments in gender integration programs that target mixed-groups.

Encouraging more young girls to venture into agricultural production in Southern Ghana was more challenging because they perceived it to be hard work for the boys alone; however, with the introduction of improved seeds and food processing skills, girls were participating more in 4-H Agricultural Clubs in school. In northern Ghana, placing girls and boys side by side in agricultural leadership roles in 4-H Agriculture Clubs helps remove gender stereotypes associated with agriculture.

Integrating gender into mixed groups deliver much better results than single groups. Also placing girls and boys side by side in agricultural lead roles in school clubs advances the agency of girls more than boys. Then again, enhanced agency contributes more to the total empowerment of women and girls than what economic and educational advancement contribute. 

Do you have an example of where you have adapted gender sensitive programming successfully?

Kristie Drucza, CIMMYT: In our meta-analysis of evaluations in Pakistan we found that programs that factor women’s mobility/participation restrictions into their design are more successful at reaching/including women. Those that didn’t had to re-correct as they went along.

Nirinjaka Ramasinjatovo, Senior Director, Monitoring & Evaluation, ACDI/VOCA: At ACDI/VOCA, gender equity and social inclusion at large are part of our mission and vision. Having the organization’s leadership commit to and dedicate resources for increased gender integration were key to us to improve our practices and make that integration even more intentional through our organizational culture and our project implementation strategies. Furthermore, we developed GenderFirst, our social inclusion framework, and the GenderFirst Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (GMEL) framework which consists of a set of practical tools and examples to guide our projects to implement, monitor and evaluate their gender strategies. These two guidance documents are and will remain crucial to help us achieve gender equity.

José Sepúlveda, Chile: Integration, the NGO Casa del Pueblo and its New Leadership School, has facilitated women's participation in positions in workers' organizations. Through collective bargaining, women are now better able to fight for equal rights at work and reduce discrimination and harassment in the workplace. It has helped promote equal rights in the family to take a leave of absence to care for sick children; for example, the number of men who use parental leave to care for sick children has gone up in Chile.

Altrena Mukuria, John Snow International: After setting up VSLAs with women in Northern Ghana, men started to feel disempowered and threatened and felt that as the women became more financially independent, they no longer needed their husbands. We introduced father-to-father groups to engage men in nutrition and family health and to keep them abreast of project activities and services to women in order to mitigate their concerns and engage them as allies. 

What else have you learned in your work around gender integration you would like to share?

Kristie Drucza, CIMMYT: Gender mainstreaming is mistakenly only thought of as something to do in projects. In our review of 47 stakeholders in Ethiopia’s agriculture sector only one considered gender mainstreaming at the institutional level, as discussed in this case study.

In our review of successful Gender Transformative Methodologies we found that participatory methods that enable participants to reflect on important development topics that matter to them and working with men and boys led to more equity. 

France MichaudDéveloppement international Desjardins: To help women farmers gain a better access to the resources they need, Développement international Desjardins believes it is essential to adopt an integrated approach allowing them to succeed as farm entrepreneurs and enhance their status in their family and community. Such an approach involves: identifying and optimizing the agricultural sectors and value chains where women are present, and encouraging women to enter new value chains; introducing financial products and community-based distribution mechanisms tailored to women’s needs; disseminating good farming production techniques and strengthening farmer associations, linking women with quality input suppliers; improving access to innovations that can lighten women’s burden; and raising awareness and educating both women and men.

In Mali, such an integrated approach was adopted under the Agriculture and Rural Financing project to support women onion growers in the Baguinéda region. It enabled these women to access not only a full range of financial services (input credit, savings, crop insurance), but also non-financial services (financial education and training in agricultural and environmental best practices) that made a huge difference in their confidence and success.

Roland Bunch, Author, Two Ears of Corn and Restoring the Soil: After working with green manure/cover crops in Africa and Latin America for more than three decades, I can say that in Africa, where women do the great bulk of the weeding, green/manure cover crops' (gm/cc) ability to smother weeds is one of the most popular innovations among women that I have ever seen. Normally, by using a gm/cc such as bushy-style mucuna, jack beans, or, preferably, lablab beans, crops like maize, sorghum, millet and cassava only need to be weeded once, instead of the normal two or three times. Since this is one of the hardest chores women face during the entire year, and involves working in the hot sun all day long for weeks at a time, right in the worst part of the hunger season, they are thrilled that these simple plants can do that job for them.

If the gm/cc is lablab beans, they will also shorten the hunger season by several months, because the lablab beans go on producing during six months of dry season, producing fresh, highly nutritious beans (23 percent protein) until they cut it down to replant the main grain crop the following rainy season.

Wesley LaythamCultural Practice, LLC: Addressing gender integration cannot be an add-on task merely done for the sake of donor compliance. Gender integration must be at the heart of program and policy design to improve our interventions so that everyone – women and men, boys and girls – can thrive.